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Tampa Bay area language arts teacher named Florida's 2016 Teacher of the Year

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ORLANDO, Florida — A Tampa Bay area language arts teacher was named Florida's 2016 Teacher of the Year on Thursday night.

Diane McKee of Williams Middle Magnet School in Hillsborough County was announced the winner in a ceremony at the Hard Rock Live at Universal Studios in Orlando.

McKee and four other finalists were selected in May from among Florida's school district nominees. Other finalists were Ashlynn Ramirez of Hernando Elementary School in Citrus County, Brian Furgione of Milwee Middle School in Seminole County, Catherine Beaudoin of W.C. Pryor Middle School in Okaloosa County and Ceola Graham of Madison County Central School in Madison County.

Gov. Rick Scott announced the award.

"Diane reflects Florida's commitment to providing the best education possible for our students," Scott said. "I am confident she will continue to inspire others in her role as an ambassador for the Florida Department of Education and teachers across the state."

According to a bio released by the Florida Department of Education, McKee has been a teacher for 14 years and has the ability to balance curriculum requirements while engaging students. Her goal is to challenge and prepare her students to be lifelong learners who commit themselves to being a positive influence on the community. Last year, she used a student-generated poem to enhance interest in and encourage students to write their own poetry and to do it from another point-of-view.

At Thursday's ceremony, McKee received a check totaling $10,000, a $1,000 wardrobe, a $1,000 check for her school and an all-expenses-paid trip for four to New York City to attend this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. McKee will also serve for one year as the Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education, touring the state to spread the word about educational opportunities and challenges.

The ceremony was hosted by the Florida Department of Education and Macy's. Darlene Hanes, Macy's executive vice president and regional director of stores, was onstage to wish McKee well in the coming year.

"Teachers generously give of themselves every day to educate children, and in doing so, elevate and empower future generations to achieve great things," Hanes said. "Macy's is grateful to have the opportunity to celebrate with and honor Diane McKee for her selfless dedication and commitment to education."

During the event, the remaining district nominees from across the state were recognized and presented with a $750 personal cash award and a $250 grant for their school, funded by the Macy's Foundation. The five finalists for Teacher of the Year each receive an award of $5,000.

This year's finalists were chosen from more than 190,000 public school teachers by a Department of Education-appointed selection committee consisting of teachers, principals, parents and the business community.

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